Jan 5, 2011
SteamBirds takes you through the purported history of early 20th-century aerial combat, as you command a fleet of red biplanes in combat against enemies who had the gall to paint their vehicles other colors, like blue and green. The gameplay is turn-based strategy, but not in the grid-based way that the name “turn-based strategy” may make you think of. You control the flight path of your planes, setting their line of flight and activating any powerup abilities you want to use (that let you go faster, do a u-turn, be invincible, or other abilities) before each turn, then all units in play make their move simultaneously. It’s less turn-based strategy and more “red light/green light”-based strategy. Your goal is obviously to take out all the enemy planes without being taken out yourself, and trying not to lose any planes or take any damage to earn as many stars as possible.
SteamBirds is unique and simple enough to pick up quickly. The game shares a lot of its necessary info visually, as powerups are easy to delineate their usage through their icons, and each unit’s shape and size shows its capabilities and powers (large ships can take a lot of damage, round ships have a 360 degree firing range). And with only a few units to keep track of in your fleet in each mission, this is a game that is very friendly for casual gamers and those that aren’t heavily into strategy games. The mission-based structure is also easy to just pick up and play with.
The problem is that missions often can devolve into tedium, as you just wait to get at the right angle on a pursuing plane to fire at them. As well, there’s one mission late in the game where there is a large blimp you have to destroy, and unless there is something that I’m missing, you just have to keep buzzing by the blimp at a distance where it won’t fire at you, but you can do some damage on it. Needless to say, I found something better to do with my time than to keep doing this. The game features single-device multiplayer, but would be perfect with some form of online multiplayer, especially given the turn-based aspects, this would be perfect in an asynchronous multiplayer gameplay incarnation. Also, the game’s controls do not support any pinch to zoom gestures, you have to use the zoom buttons on the top left.
SteamBirds is an interesting game, and one with ingenious elements in play, but is far from excellent. I recommend playing the Flash version first to see if you like this before shelling out for the full Android version.